WEATHER AUTHORITY : Heat Advisory View Alerts
STREAMING NOW: Watch Now

Is Donald Trump's North Korea strategy working?

Kim Jong Un, to general surprise, announced in his New Year's Day speech ...

Posted: Jan 5, 2018 7:45 PM
Updated: Jan 5, 2018 7:45 PM

Kim Jong Un, to general surprise, announced in his New Year's Day speech that he was prepared to "melt the frozen north-south relations," to allow contacts with South Koreans and to discuss North Korean participation in the Winter Olympics to be held in February in South Korea.

US President Trump has tweeted that this would not have happened had he not been "firm, strong and willing to commit our total 'might' against the North."

He may be partly right. The single most important factor driving the North Koreans to this decision was probably economic distress.

Pyongyang's anxieties are evident from Kim Jong Un's speech, most of which focused on the economy. Agriculture and fisheries, he said, "need an upswing," while light industry should save electricity and also produce more goods with local materials. This means that supplies of food, power and imported raw materials are all problematic.

So, to the extent that these problems are due to US-inspired sanctions (they were also caused by a severe drought last year and by the inefficiencies of North Korea's unreformed economy), President Trump has a point.

But President Trump's unpredictability may also have contributed to Pyongyang's decision. When United Nations Undersecretary-General Jeffrey Feltman visited Pyongyang from December 5 through 8, the North Koreans asked him repeatedly how decisions were made in Washington. They are nervous that the United States is now behaving in ways that they cannot predict and are probably anxious at President Trump's talk of military action.

So, Pyongyang probably hopes not only to ease its economic problems by persuading South Korea to slacken its implementation of sanctions (South Korea's seizure last month of two vessels caught illegally transhipping oil to North Korean vessels will have alarmed Pyongyang) and perhaps to give it some direct economic assistance, but also by warming relations with a key US ally to reduce the risk of a surprise US strike on its facilities.

But that does not explain the timing of the North Korean announcement. Its change in tone was sudden. The North Koreans gave Feltman no reason to think that they were open to talks with anyone, and as late as December 30, North Korea's state media published a fiery policy document warning the US does "not expect any change in (the DPRK's) policy." Two days later, Kim Jong Un did just that. Why?

Perhaps the immediate trigger was the announcement on December 19 by President Moon Jae-In of South Korea that he had asked the US military to postpone the annual joint US-South Korean exercises until after the Winter Olympics. The North Koreans hate these exercises and have often tried to get them postponed, reduced or canceled, so this may have seemed too good an opportunity to miss. They acted quickly, meeting South Korean officials secretly right at the end of December, probably to say that North Korea would take part in the Olympics if the postponement was confirmed (which, following a conversation between President Moon and President Trump, it now has been). But there is more than this. Kim Jong Un warned South Korea against "joining the United States in its reckless moves for a north-targeted nuclear war." When the two sides meet on January 9, it is likely that the North will press the South to take a more independent line in an effort to drive a wedge between Washington and Seoul, a major North Korean strategic objective.

So, the talks will be delicate. To give the North Koreans too little would risk the door slamming shut again, but to give them too much could undermine the sanctions regime that remains the single best hope for persuading Pyongyang to halt its nuclear programs. But if (a big if) all goes well, they might just lead to wider talks. Kim Jong Un's speech was surprisingly gentle on the United States. He used no language stronger than the colorful reference to his nuclear button -- mild by North Korean standards -- and sanctions were not even mentioned. (His speech was much shorter than usual. Were condemnations of the United States cut at the last minute?).

Is he signaling that, if talks with the South go well, he just might talk with the United States, too? And if so, will he pause his nuclear and missile tests?

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 37542

Reported Deaths: 1272
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds304154
DeSoto200920
Madison150839
Jones123149
Harrison118316
Rankin113719
Neshoba104577
Forrest104343
Lauderdale97281
Scott83115
Jackson80419
Washington75313
Copiah67516
Leake63520
Lee63022
Grenada6259
Oktibbeha62328
Warren60021
Holmes59841
Lamar5847
Wayne56819
Yazoo5667
Lowndes54917
Leflore53956
Lincoln53835
Pike51120
Lafayette5094
Sunflower5058
Panola4616
Monroe46036
Simpson4533
Covington4505
Bolivar41618
Tate39513
Attala38624
Newton37710
Adams36720
Pontotoc3636
Marion34912
Claiborne31511
Pearl River30832
Chickasaw30219
Winston30211
Marshall2973
Jasper2826
Noxubee2799
Walthall2748
Clay26211
Smith25612
Union25612
Coahoma2356
Clarke22825
Lawrence2162
Yalobusha2089
Tallahatchie1974
Montgomery1863
Kemper18414
Carroll18311
Humphreys17410
Calhoun1705
Hancock15213
Itawamba1478
Tippah14711
Jefferson1373
Webster13511
Prentiss1274
Tunica1263
George1253
Jefferson Davis1254
Greene11610
Alcorn1112
Amite1113
Tishomingo1091
Quitman1011
Wilkinson1019
Perry914
Stone772
Choctaw764
Franklin572
Sharkey480
Benton470
Issaquena111
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 56441

Reported Deaths: 1136
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson7012170
Mobile5061140
Montgomery4599112
Tuscaloosa274353
Madison25359
Marshall205012
Shelby176425
Lee164737
Morgan13975
Baldwin134111
Walker111332
Elmore107622
Etowah106914
Dallas10189
DeKalb10017
Franklin95016
Unassigned77728
Autauga71515
Russell7130
Chambers68530
Cullman6686
Limestone6653
Butler65529
Houston6417
Tallapoosa63069
Lauderdale6006
St. Clair5983
Calhoun5545
Colbert5286
Escambia5128
Lowndes49222
Pike4805
Jackson4422
Coffee4364
Covington43512
Talladega4177
Dale4061
Barbour4022
Bullock37810
Hale36323
Marengo36111
Chilton3452
Blount3311
Clarke3236
Wilcox3158
Marion30914
Winston3095
Sumter29713
Pickens2786
Randolph2759
Monroe2683
Perry2552
Conecuh2388
Bibb2271
Macon2229
Choctaw22012
Greene2009
Henry1573
Washington1529
Lawrence1460
Crenshaw1343
Cherokee1317
Geneva1010
Fayette901
Clay892
Lamar891
Coosa671
Cleburne481
Out of AL00
Tupelo
Few Clouds
93° wxIcon
Hi: 93° Lo: 73°
Feels Like: 96°
Columbus
Scattered Clouds
93° wxIcon
Hi: 93° Lo: 72°
Feels Like: 103°
Oxford
Broken Clouds
91° wxIcon
Hi: 93° Lo: 73°
Feels Like: 97°
Starkville
Broken Clouds
88° wxIcon
Hi: 91° Lo: 71°
Feels Like: 94°
WTVA Radar
WTVA Temperatures
WTVA Severe Weather